21 Grams (2003)

21 Grams is a difficult film to watch. This isn’t just in relation to its content, but also in the way that it is presented. The story is told in bits and pieces in a non-linear format, meaning you have to continue to watch intently in order to figure out what is going on. If you decide to watch it, be prepared to set aside 2 hours of you life in order to watch it properly.

Not having a linear story makes it hard to describe the plot, so I’m going to keep it as simple as possible: People have stuff happen to them in their lives. That’s about the best description I can give without partially spoiling some part of the film. There are a few main people within the film though, and I suppose stating their background couldn’t hurt. (Although I suppose that is giving away the “past” story thread). Oh well, maybe that will give you an easier time watching the film.

Jack (Benicio del Toro) is an ex-convict who has found religion in order to deal with his problems. After becoming religious, he found a wife (Mellisa Leo). His life starts improving from this point, up until something bad happens. That bad thing involves another couple, Christina and Michael Peck (Naomi Watts and Danny Houston). Their lives are fine too, until this unfortunate event occurs, which will involve one of the characters making an important choice.

That choice will involve yet another couple, the Rivers. Sean Penn plays Paul, a man who has a fatal heart condition. His wife, Mary (Charlotte Gainsbourg), desperately wants a child before his heart gives out for good, something that Paul is less than eager about. After being changed forever by the decision that is made earlier, their lives begin to change too, for better or worse. The entire film rides this emotional wave, constantly throwing good moments just for them to be crushed by negative ones.

21 Grams is a film that tries desperately hard to evoke emotional responses from the audience. Despite its few, happy moments, the majority of the film is upsetting. Almost everything that can go wrong, will, and you get to see the responses to these negative situations that the characters have. These are people who get torn apart by the world around them, giving off a feeling of hopelessness and unease during and after the film.

I’m not entirely sure whether or not 21 Grams needed to be told in a non-linear fashion. While this way of storytelling does force the audience to pay attention, it also makes the story initially confusing. This is especially true in the beginning of the film, where you will have absolutely no idea what is going on. You’ll start filling in gaps as it progresses, but I still question whether or not telling the story in order would have made the film more compelling, overall.

The one thing I still cannot decide on is how good 21 Grams actually is. I liked it, to be certain, but I don’t know how much I enjoyed it. I almost think that a second watch is required, just so that some of the earlier scenes make more sense now that I’ve seen the film in its entirety. The first time around, they don’t make much sense, not until you look back at them. You need a fairly good memory in order to put all the pieces together on the first run-through, and that’s something I don’t have the luxury of possessing.

If there is one thing that makes 21 Grams compelling, it’s the performances from the actors. Del Toro, Watts, Penn, they all give wonderful performances, ones that all make you feel for their characters. Or maybe it’s just that the characters’ circumstances make you care about them. Maybe both? It’s likely a combination of those two factors, but the characters are interesting and deep nonetheless.

There isn’t really much else to say about 21 Grams. Its story is complex and will take you a while to figure out and the acting performances are all great. It’s a film that will keep you wondering throughout its duration, but also make you care about its characters by the end. I enjoyed it quite a lot, but its difficult to review thanks to the story being one of the most difficult things to describe. I say give it a watch, because it’s something you should enjoy.

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